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LSU Health Research Suggests New Mechanism to Balance Emotional Behavior

December 17, 2020

GABA molecule

Research led by Si-Qiong June Liu, MD, PhD, Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, discovered a surprising reciprocal interaction between chemicals in the brain resulting in accelerated loss of molecules that regulate brain cell communication. The research team’s findings are published online in Nature Communications, available here.

Working in a rodent model, the researchers showed that the release of Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter, hastens the breakdown of endocannabinoids in the brain. Endocannabinoids are naturally produced molecules that regulate how brain cells communicate, and their dysfunction can lead to neurological disorders. Endocannabinoids are produced “on-demand” and are removed when they are no longer needed. The researchers found that GABA upsets this delicate balance. Endocannabinoids are critically involved in several aspects of emotional memory processing, and the researchers found that memory formation through fear conditioning selectively speeds up their decline in the cerebellum. The findings reveal a potential therapeutic target to regulate the rate of degradation of endocannabinoids and provide an effective way to alter behavior.

“Endocannabinoids control emotional behavior,” notes Dr. Liu. “Learning increased the release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA, and this was responsible for driving the change in endocannabinoid degradation. This form of plasticity is responsible for the formation of fear memory. Our findings suggest a novel mechanism for the physiological regulation of endocannabinoid signaling and for modulating emotional behavior.”

Other members of the LSU Health New Orleans research team included Dr. Christophe J. Dubois, graduate student Jessica Fawcett-Patel and undergraduate student Paul A. Katzman.

This work was supported by National Science Foundation Grant IBN-0344559, Veterans Administration Grant BX003893 and National Institutes of Health Grants NS58867, R01NS106915, and MH095948, as well as an NIH COBRE grant, P30 GM106392.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans (LSU Health New Orleans) educates Louisiana's health care professionals. The state's health sciences university leader, LSU Health New Orleans includes a School of Medicine with branch campuses in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, the state's only School of Dentistry, Louisiana's only public School of Public Health, and Schools of Allied Health Professions, Nursing, and Graduate Studies. LSU Health New Orleans faculty take care of patients in public and private hospitals and clinics throughout the region. In the vanguard of biosciences research, the LSU Health New Orleans research enterprise generates jobs and enormous annual economic impact. LSU Health New Orleans faculty have made lifesaving discoveries and continue to work to prevent, advance treatment or cure disease. To learn more, visit,, or

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